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Christmas Reflections from Mrs Partington


This little chestnut comes from Portsmouth-born writer BP Shillaber whose literary character Mrs. Partington was among the best known women in 19th century America. Except that, like Mrs. Doubtfire, she was a man in petticoats. Shillaber’s “carpet bag” of humor includes this long forgotten holiday memory with her mischievous nephew Ike, dredged up for your reading pleasure. (Continued below)



“I wish you a merry Christmas
And a happy New Year,
With your stomach full of money,
And your pocket full of beer,”

Ike yelled as he skipped into Mrs. Partington's kitchen, where the old dame was busily engaged in cooking breakfast on Christmas morning.

“Don't make such a noise, dear,” said the kind old lady, holding up her hand; “you give me a scrutinizing pain in my head, and your young voice goes through my brains like a scalpel knife. But what did the good Santa Cruz put in your stocking, Isaac?”

And she looked at him with an arch and pleased expression, as he took out of his pocket a jackknife, and a hum-top painted with gaudy colors. Ike held them up joyously, and it was a sight to see the two standing there, she smiling serenely upon the boy's happiness, and he grateful in the possession of his treasures.

“Ah!” said she, with a sigh, “there's many a home today, Isaac, that Santa Cruz won't visit, and many a poor child will find nothing in his stocking but his own little foot!”

It might have been a grain of the snuff she took, it might have been a floating mote of the atmosphere, but Mrs. Partington's eyes looked humid, though she smiled upon the boy before her, who stood trying to pull the cord out of her reticule to spin his new top with. 

MORE about Shillaber and Mrs Partington

From the Life & Sayings of Mrs. Partington & Others of the Family
Benjamin Penhallow Shillaber (1854)



Yup, that’s what passed for humor in the mid 19th century. Shillaber wrote hundreds. maybe thousands of these word-snapshots of human activity in his era. Everyone back then knew that Ike Partington was a “plaguey” little boy being raised by his country aunt. Ike was more monkey than boy, perpetually in trouble. In this little scene, Mrs. P actually has a second or tow in which she enjoys her nephew and shares a happy moment – and Ike is happy too. But Mrs. P is not even halfway into her reverie when Ike is already being destructive, here unwinding his aunt’s carry bag to use the string to wind his new top. We don’t run a lot of these because, in the words of Desi Arnez, there's too much esplaining to do for the modern audience.
 -- JDR

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